OK, I’m abnormally excited about tonight’s “Saturday Night Live.” Am I looking forward to Jason Segel? You betcha. Florence + The Machine? Sure. But what I am really jazzed for? MUPPETS, people. Given that Segel is the writer/star of the “The Muppets,” and given the Muppets’ own history with SNL, it’s only logical that they show up in some form tonight. (If you’re as into The Muppets as I am, you owe it to yourself to check out this Film Nerd 2.0 interview over on Drew McWeeney’s Motion/Captured blog here at HitFix.)
 
It’s gonna take a lot to bring me down tonight. Which probably means “SNL” will bust out “Secret Word,” “The Manuel Ortiz Talk Show,” then feature Fozzie Bear with Anthony Crispino on “Weekend Update” just to break my spirit. Only one way to find out. Onto the recap!
 
A Message From The Committee To Elect Mitt Romney: More surprising than the number of appearances by Jason Sudeikis as Romney this season? The complete lack of Fred Armisen as Obama. Just noting. Romney appears here “Raw and Unleashed” in an attempt to get in the headlines currently dominated by Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Naturally, his goofs and indiscretions are as boring as he is. “SNL” is sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place should the race come down to Obama/Romney. Neither give the show much with which to work. Sudeikis has plenty of energy in the role, but the best “SNL” political sketches have a bite that is missing here. I’m not sure this is the show’s fault, given the target in question. But there you have it. (On the plus side, Jay Pharoah sighting in the first sketch! Not just his hand holding an iPhone! The whole Jay!) [Grade: C+]
 
Monologue: Jason Segel doesn’t wanna talk: HE WANTS TO SING! And he’s gonna sing with Kermit and Miss Piggy…all the other Muppets as well! The Muppets think they are co-hosting the show with Segel, and…who would have a problem with that, exactly? People with cold, dark hearts, that’s who would have a problem with that. Regardless, The Muppets turn on Segel, angry at his supposed selfishness. But then they get an invite to the after party, so all is well. We even get a Statler and Waldorf shout-out from the studio balcony! Pure pleasure through and through. [Grade: A]
 
Red Flag: Been there, done that. I don’t grade commercials that air multiple times, and this one first aired in this season premiere. [Grade: N/A]
 
Live with Regis and Kelly: With Regis gone, Kelly needs to find a replacement. What follows is an excuse for lots of the cast to trot out some of their impressions. There’s no shape to the sketch, just a parade of variably successful impressions. The best? Armisen’s George Lopez and Abby Elliot’s Zooey Deschanel. (“I’m just a little bitty girl.”) Segel gets relegated to last place, where his Antonio Banderas barely made an impression. Perfectly fine, though I’m sure I’ll forget this even happened by “Weekend Update.”  [Grade: B]
 
Kemper-Pedic: Hey, it’s a masturbation bed. Just in time for the holidays, too! Luckily, Segel is great at performing embarrassing sexual acts on camera, so this was right in his wheelhouse. I understand time constraints meant we needed the time “Red Flag” added to the overall length of tonight’s episode, but why not stick this commercial after the monologue and save the repeat for later in the show? [Grade: B]
 
The Vogelchecks: In terms of recurring sketches, this one’s in the middle of the pack for me. I don’t love it or loathe it, but rather judge it on a case-by-case basis. This was actually one of the better iterations of this sketch, due for the inventive ways it kept increasing the craziness of the affection, and then changing halfway through to have the family graphically feed Andy Samberg’s homeless man. The brussels sprouts bit turned into an audience participation segment, as everyone rooted for Kristen Wiig and Samberg to make a successful transaction. Paul Rudd’s surprise appearance at the end sealed the deal, as he and Segel seemingly went to third base on live television. There’s no guarantee I’ll like the next time “SNL” busts out the Vogelchecks, but I quite enjoyed this one. [Grade: B+]
 
Florence + The Machine come onstage next, performing their new single “Shake It Out.” A backing choir gives give great depth to Florence Welch’s soulful performance. Given what I’ve seen of her live performances, Welch is oddly subdued tonight. That’s neither here nor there in terms of the quality, but just an interesting juxtaposition given what I’ve previously seen. Her stillness gives the proceedings a stately air, and while this might seem far too serious for many, it’s a classy performance that has me questioning only one thing: how BORED is that guitarist? Dude’s just standing there, anxiously waiting for a chance to play more than one note a minute. [Grade: A-]
 
Weekend Update: The real John Huntsman appears, gently mocking his own poll results and kissing some serious New Hampshire butt alongside native son Seth Meyers. The results are a little awkward, but will certainly do only positive things for him going forth. After that, “Really!?!” With Seth And Kermit” debuts. I am in hog, I mean FROG, heaven. Kermit has a point: we SHOULD change the national anthem to the “Hot Pockets” theme song. It would certainly cut down on the lengths of baseball games. All of Kermit’s reactions to Seth’s stats got laughs, and yes, I will talk about Kermit like he’s real. After all, he’s a Muppet, not a puppet. [Grade: B+ ]
 
Mitch’s Retirement: Wow. This is the “American Pie” of weak “SNL” sketches. This sucker just kept going…and going…but not in a positive, Energizer Bunny sort of way. There were a lot of ideas that never really coalesced: was this about Armisen’s boring retiree? Wiig’s stagefright-filled secretary? Segel’s drunk, dramatic coworker? The sketch couldn’t decide where to focus. Rather than creating a large, vivid tapestry of characters, it left most of them on the vine, barely making an impact as a result. It felt like two sketch ideas slammed into one segment, with both compromised in the process. [Grade: C-]
 
New Jack Thanksgiving: Another hit and miss series of individual performances staged within the context of a compilation album. As someone who remembers the New Jack Swing era all too well, this should have been a slam dunk for me. But none of the individual songs were as funny as the ones once doled out on “Deep House Dish.” (And even those weren’t very strong to begin with.) Not even Florence Welch’s appearance could help “Adult Table” rise above the rest of the songs. However, the run of fake band names at the end was fairly hysterical, especially “Toni, Tone, Tony Shaloub”. Once again, Segel was relegated to the last slot, another afterthought in another sketch. I feel like Kermit should come on screaming, “REALLY???” each time this happens. Still, props to Bobby Moynihan, as Medium Richard, for keeping the energy level as high as possible. Without him as the glue, this sketch would have dropped a letter grade. [Grade: B-]
 
Seducing Women Through Chess: The digital shorts this season have been…well, what’s the nicest way to put this? Pretty effin’ terrible. OK, that wasn’t the nicest way to put it. Still, it’s probably the most honest way. But this was a breath of fresh digital air, easily the strongest one in the Fall season. It didn’t overstay its welcome, it had a great visual recreation of a found VHS tape from the early ‘80s, it featured a bevy of smart women outsmarting the pompous host, and it had Segel as a tranny hooker shivving Andy Samberg for $60. What’s not to like? [Grade: A-]
 
André The Giant Chooses an Ice Cream Flavor: Wow. That was short, strange, and pretty damn wonderful. This seems like a case where Segel’s impression is SO GOOD that even without a full sketch to support it, “SNL” wanted to do something to get that on the air. Imagine that: a sketch built around the host’s talent. Seems like a lost art lately. Now I’m wishing tonight’s episode could have squeezed in a “Princess Bride” homage in some way, shape, or form. [Grade: B+]
 
Florence + The Machine return. They aren’t here to recreate “Adult Table,” sadly. Rather, they are here to perform “No Light No Light.” I’m trying to listen to the song, but I’m mesmerized by that art deco microphone stand. SHINY. There’s something about the small performance space that limits the scope of the song: it’s a track that wants to reach the heavens but feels constrained by those surrounding walls. In a 20,000-seat arena, this would probably play like gangbusters. Here’s a performance that could have been potentially aided by dressing the stage up the ways acts such as Kanye West and Coldplay have recently done. That’s not to say that set decorations should outweigh musical performance. But some visual flair could have aided the impact of the song all the same. [Grade: B]
 
The Blue Jean Committee: The 12:55 am sketch is usually reserved for a sketch that features either a weird, dangerous, or demented viewpoint. This one, however, was totally laid-back, almost as if designed to wind down the episode in a mellow manner. Given that this band was warbling about “Massachusetts afternoons”, this Boston-based recapper was geographically predisposed to liking this sketch from the outset. What initially felt like a re-skinning of “Sparkling Apple Juice” from last season grew into a warm hug for the entire week, one shared by the cast with the audience. Paul Rudd, Florence Welch, and The Muppets all made cameos during the song, and rather than sending us out on a weird note, “SNL” gave us the closest thing it may ever do to a proper coda. Well done. [Grade: A-]
 
Best Sketch: Monologue
 
Worst Sketch: Mitch’s Retirement
 
Biggest Surprise, Vol. 1: Jay Pharaoh apparently found out where Lorne Michaels buried the bodies, because that guy was all OVER the place tonight.
 
Biggest Surprise, Vol. 2: The two best episodes of “SNL” this year have come at the end of four-week runs and three-week runs, respectively. One would think this would be when the energies of talent on both sides of the camera would be lowest.
 
Next Cast Member I Will Attempt to Free Now That Jay Pharoah Has Been Successfully Liberated: Abby Elliot. She has incredible talent and yet is hardly ever featured.
 

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Too much Muppets, or not nearly enough? Did the show do a good job of showcasing Segel or did he too often blend into the background? Do sketches that feature a parade of actors acting individually rather than together work for you, or should “SNL” focus on creating more sketches in which they interact with each other? Sound off below!